Lawless Movie Review 1 14

Lawless movie review

Westerns are a rarity these days but when they do come along every once in a while they’re usually to be cherished in one way or another, whether it be in poetic terms (e.g. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) or just plain gung ho cowboy battling (e.g. 3:10 To Yuma). Lawless, from director John Hillcoat, offers a lot to enjoy particularly for those partial to that once prolific genre, dripping with atmosphere and looking exquisite to boot.

Lawless is based on the book The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant which in turn tells the true story of the infamous Bondurant brothers in Prohibition-era Franklin County, Virginia. The plot centres on three brothers (played by Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke) who find their successful bootlegging business under threat from the authorities who want a cut of the profits, aided by the ruthless Chicago police officer Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce).

Directed by John Hillcoat (who made the excellent The Road and The Proposition) and written by Nick Cave (writer of The Proposition), Lawless is an often extremely violent and uncompromising look at a dangerous way of life. Although uncompromising in their own rights, Hillcoat’s previous efforts took a more ponderous approach to the Western genre (The Road is about as close as you can get without actually being a Western). Lawless is an unabashedly full-on telling, filled with bloody shootouts and even bloodier fistfights. There’s something admirable about that no-nonsense approach.

An exquisitely crafted sense of time and place makes Lawless a wholly believable affair, even in the face of its more over-the-top moments and larger-than-life characters. The story of united brothers at arms may be an altogether simple one but it nonetheless provides a fascinating look back at how the relationship between such a trio of “outlaws who became heroes” interacted with one another, how missteps and egos got in the way of tasks at hand and tested that brotherly bond in such brutal times.

Equipped with one hell of an impressive cast, the performances are all fantastic. LaBeouf is surprisingly good in the most emotionally explored role of Jack, the younger of the brothers; Hardy grunts and grumbles his way to one the year’s most fascinatingly brooding film characters as Forrest, sparking into violent life in some of the films most shocking scenes; and Clarke’s alcoholic Howard provides the backbone in a lot of ways. Also on top form are the likes of Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman and particularly Guy Pearce as the snake-like Charlie Rakes, one of my absolute favourite screen personas of the year.

It’s not the masterpiece it aims to be, however, suffering from occasional pacing problems, frustratingly limited screen-time for some of the performers (namely Oldman), and some would argue it uncomfortably revels in its bloody violence from time to time. Having said that, these were brutal times and as such the film pulls no punches, so to speak.

It may not approach the sort of instant classic nature of some other recent notable Westerns, and it’s hard to beat HBO’s portrayal of the Prohibition gangster era with Boardwalk Empire. Nevertheless Lawless is a handsomely made motion picture with excellent performances, beautiful cinematography, a cracking soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis and a handful of scenes which hit you with a certain wow factor. It continues to prove there’s still plenty of life in that most iconic of genres.

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Lawless opens in UK cinemas on September 7th.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 205

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 230

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10